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Midrash is a second compilation of oral law from the period of the Mishnah. In many ways, the Tosefta acts as a supplement to the Mishnah (tosefta means “supplement”). It is an Halakhic work which corresponds in structure almost exactly to the Mishnah, with the same divisions for orders (sedarim) and tractates (masekhot). It is mainly written in Mishnaic Hebrew, with some Aramaic.

The Mishnah was redacted by Judah haNasi in consultation with members of his academy (yeshiva), while the Tosefta was edited by Rabbis Hiyya and Oshaiah on their own, thus the Tosefta is considered less authoritative in the Orthodox Jewish world.

The text of most of Tosefta agrees nearly verbatim with the Mishnah, and often varies only slightly. The Tosefta offers authors' names for laws that are anonymous in the Mishna. The Tosefta as we have it today functions like a commentary on unquoted Mishnaic material; It offers additional haggadic and midrashic material, and it sometimes contradicts the Mishnah in deciding Halakha (Jewish law), or in declaring in whose name a law was given.

Much of the Tosefta is currently regarded as being written shortly after the Mishnah was redacted. The definitive commentary on the Tosefta is by Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky in Hebrew (1925-1975 AD).

The legal (halakhic) midrashim

Legal Midrash are the works in which the sources in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) of the traditionally received laws are identified. These midrashim often predate the Mishnah.

The Midrash linking a verse to a halakha will often function as a proof of a law's authenticity; a correct elucidation of the Torah carries with it the support of the halakhah, and often the reason for the rule's existence (although many rabbinical laws have no direct Biblical source).


The homiletical (aggadic) midrashim

The homiletical midrashim embrace the interpretation of the non-legal portions of the Hebrew Bible. These midrashim are sometimes referred to as Aggadah, a loosely-defined term that may refer to all non-legal discourse in classical rabbinic literature.

Homiletical explanations of the non-legal parts of Scripture are characterized by a much greater freedom of exposition than the legal midrashim. These homiletical explanations could be philosophical or mystical disquisitions concerning angels, demons, paradise, hell, the Messiah, Satan, feasts and fasts, parables, legends, satirical assaults on those who practice idolatry, etc.

Some of these midrashim entail mystical teachings. The presentation is such that the Midrash is a simple lesson to the uninitiated, and a direct allusion, or analogy, to a Mystical teaching for those educated in this area.


The classical midrashim

  • the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael: this is a legal commentary on Exodus, concentrating on the legal sections, from Exodus 12 to 35. This midrash collection was redacted into its final form around the 3rd or 4th century.

  • the Mekhilta Rabbi Ben Yohai: this is an exegetical midrash on Exodus 3 to 35, and it is dated to near the 4th century.

  • Sifra on Leviticus: the core of this text developed in the mid-3rd century as a critique and commentary of the Mishnah, although subsequent additions and editing went on for some time afterwards.

  • Sifre on Numbers and Deuteronomy: this work is mainly a legal midrash, yet includes a long homiletical piece in sections 78-106. The core material was redacted around the middle of the 3rd century.

  • Sifre Zutta (the small Sifre): this work is a legal commentary on the book of Numbers. It seems to come from the early 3rd century.

  • Midrash Qohelet, on Ecclesiastes: probably before middle of ninth century.

  • Midrash Esther, on Esther: 940 AD.

  • the Pesiqta, a compilation of homilies on special Pentateuchal and Prophetic lessons: early eighth century.

  • Pirqe Rabbi Eliezer, a Midrashic narrative of the more important events of the Pentateuch: not before eighth century.

  • Midrash Tanhuma on the whole Pentateuch; its homilies often consist of a legal introduction, followed by several poems, exposition of the opening verses and the Messianic conclusion (ninth century).

  • Midrash Shemuel, on the first two Books of Kings (I, II Samuel).

  • Midrash Tehillim, on the Psalms.

  • Midrash Mishle, a commentary on the book of Proverbs.

  • Seder Olam Rabbah (or simply Seder Olam): this work covers topics from the Creation of the universe to the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

  • Yalkut Shimoni: a collection of midrash on the Tanakh (both legal and homiletical midrash) compiled by Shimon ha-Darshan in the 13th century AD and is collected from over 50 other midrashic works.

  • Tanna Devei Eliyahu: this work stresses the reasons underlying the commandments, the importance of knowing Torah, prayer, and repentance, and the ethical and religious values that are learned through the Bible. It consists of two sections, Seder Eliyahu Rabbah and Seder Eliyahu Zuta. It is not a compilation but a uniform work with a single author.

  • Midrash Rabbah: widely studied are the Rabboth (great commentaries), a collection of ten midrashim on different books of the Bible, written by different authors, in different locales, in different historical eras:

      - Bereshith Rabba, Genesis Rabbah (sixth century AD),

      - Shemot Rabba, Exodus Rabbah (eleventh and twelfth century AD),

      - Vayyiqra Rabba, Leviticus Rabbah (middle seventh century AD),

      - Bamidbar Rabba, Numbers Rabbah (twellfth century AD),

      - Devarim Rabba, Deuteronomy Rabbah (tenth century AD),

      - Shir Hashirim Rabba, Song of Songs Rabbah (probably before the middle of ninth century AD),

      - Ruth Rabba, Eicha Rabba, Lamentations Rabbah (seventh century AD).